Paul in Rome in the Sixties

The book of Acts indicates that Paul was under ‘house arrest’ in Rome, most probably between 60-62.  Luke’s text suggests that Paul was then released, something First Timothy and Titus also imply.  Second Timothy, written from Rome, however indicates that Paul was soon to face execution.  Presumably, this execution was at the decision of Nero Caesar following the Great Fire in 64.

As I suggested in another paper (‘“Paul lived in Rome two whole years”. The Mysterious Ending of Luke-Acts’ ? http//paulbarnett.info) the reason Luke did not write about Paul after Acts 28 (his two-year imprisonment in Rome) was that he knew this information could be gleaned from the letters to Timothy and Titus (whose authorship he may have contributed to ? so C.F.D. Moule).

It is tragically clear why in 64 or 65 Paul was beheaded following the Fire (as a Roman citizen he would not be crucified).  But why was he released in c. 62, as he expected to be, based on the general thrust of Philippians and the open ended close of Acts?

To answer this we need to be reminded about the politics of Rome in the sixties.  Nero Caesar was both immature (a mere 23 in the year 60) and distracted (he had recently murdered his mother, Agrippina).  Effectively, Rome and its empire were being administered by Burrus (the Praetorian Prefect), and Seneca (Nero’s speech-writer and chief advisor).

Almost certainly Paul’s ‘appeal to Caesar’, whose outcome he was awaiting in Philippians, would have effectively been heard by Burrus and Seneca, rather than by Nero.

My argument here is that Seneca would have played a key role in a favourable decision for Paul.  This is because Seneca’s brother was the Gallio who had passed a good verdict on Paul in Corinth a decade earlier.  In effect, Gallio Proconsul of Achaia, determined back then that Paul the Roman citizen had not acted against Roman custom in establishing an alternative meeting in Corinth.  After serving his year-long appointment in Achaia Gallio returned to Rome where he became Consul in 55 (?).  Seneca was Consul in 56.

There can be little doubt that Gallio would have discussed Paul’s case in Corinth with his brother Seneca.  Thus, so far as Gallio would have been concerned, a precedent had been set.  Paul was not guilty of any breach of Roman law.  This may have prompted his colleague Burrus to release the man whose imprisonment was supervised by the Praetorian Guard, according to Philippians.

After 62 everything changed.  Burrus died in 62 and was replaced by Tigellinus.   From that time the tide was running against Seneca who attempted to retire from public life in 62.  In 65 Nero forced him to commit suicide.

Providentially for Paul Burrus and Seneca were the men of influence during Paul’s two-year house arrest (60-62 ? the setting of Philippians) after which Paul was released for travel in the east (as witnessed in First Timothy and Titus).  After 62, however, Paul’s protectors (Burrus and Seneca) were gone from the seat of influence.

The Great Fire in 64 inevitably caught up Paul in its tragic aftermath.